Life’s fragility

Yesterday I lit a candle to mark the fourth birthday in my second life, commemorating the day I was to have passed only to cheat death, when doctors performed a triple-by-pass open-heart surgery. The residual consequences have been mixed and though I am grateful to be alive, the side effects of the surgery have become an almost daily battle. Especially the bouts with depression have become more numerous these last one and half years, lasting longer and becoming more sever, that I have even begun to question if the quality of life gained has been worth this daily struggle.

Following the months after the surgery I was very optimistic, looking forward to a better life. Knowing I had better chance, more then most men, to possible live beyond the national average. I would like to regain that optimism, making whatever few years I do have left seem like a lifetime. As the candle celebrating the birthday slowly burned, its light flickered now and then, to unseen currents, when a little hot wax dribbled down the tapered shaft, marking the beginning of my forth year, which was now more important than ever before.

As I reflected, I could not help but also encompass the events that are unfolding by the hour ever since an earthquake had struck the city of Port au Prince, Haiti. It is events like these that we are reminded how fragile life is; unfortunately it takes a disaster or a personal crisis for most of us to understand this.

The arrival of winter as autumn passes
Wildcat Canyon Road, Berkeley California - December 27, 2005, #22281

In many ways this series of photographs reflect life’s fragility. They were taken one week after my collapse, which was later determined to have been a heart attack, and two weeks prior to the open-heart surgery. To this day they are some of the most personal and best work I have produced in the last four decades. Not only do they represent a pivotal moment in my then fifty-six years, they also reflect life’s last will and testament that was voided on January 16, 2006. And so whenever I think about the surgery or the month of December or the month of January, the mind recalls those several days in which I visited a small stretch of earth with tripod and camera in hand, searching.

If you were to ask if I knew what it was that was being sought those last days in December of 2005, the answer would have always been met with a blank gaze, then followed with utter silence. I just knew that regardless of the weather I was compelled, no driven if you would, to capture an image. Only months later did I come to understand that the image was the message and that it was meant for me. It was nature letting me know that my life was like the many leaves that had fallen and now represented my very existence that was about to expire. Yet I am here, facing doubt and an uncertainty, while still trying to make sense of it all.

Though I considered January 16 to be my second birthday and not just an anniversary, I did nothing more than light a candle, watching its bright amber flame slowly burn, while the candles scent began to settle all around the room. Though birthdays are meant to be celebratory, I did not wish it so, besides no one remembered and I did not say a word. It just seemed that some birthdays are best spent with ones self.

A last hurrah
Wildcat Canyon Road, Berkeley California -December 28, 2005, #22294

The inevitable hope
Wildcat Canyon Road, Berkeley California -December 29, 2005, #22326

December’s blanket
Wildcat Canyon Road, Berkeley California -December 30, 2005, #22349

Rain-washing away the sins of the day
Wildcat Canyon Road, Berkeley California -December 30, 2005, #22351

Technical Notes:

Camera: Sony DSC-V1, 5MB, Full Frame
Computer: Macintosh G4
Post work: Photoshop v8 (CS-I)
Post work notes:
Levels, Curves were all individually set.
Channel Mixer for all images at R+40/G+50/B+20/Constant-5
Afterwards converted to Duo-tone for secondary colour
Gaussian Blur was applied to all images


sukipoet said...

Nothing is ever black and white, one way or the other. To have survived when you thought you would die, to then find that survival brings it's own challenges and changes, these are big things to face. You view them with such sensitivity, both in words and in photos. I agree that for the most part we churn our way through life overlooking the fragility of being alive, of being human. Yet of course death is always there tapping us on the shoulder, whispering in our ear. I think that those who have more awareness of this paradox of life become poets and painters. and it is through our poems and paintings that we acknowledge a heroic yet humble self, in the face of what is.

Kathy said...

Dear Egmont,
Although I felt alarm when I read of your heart surgery, I also felt relief and gratitude. Relief that you survived it and gratitude that I've gotten to know you through our blogging. It was obvious to me from the first time I read your posts and you commented on mine that you have a deep appreciation of life and a remarkable eye for finding the beauty in it. You and I are close in age and at this point in our lives every day becomes more precious, with or without health problems. And, like you, I've had near misses with death. That makes us appreciate life all the more. To complete the "alikeness", there are times when I struggle with feelings of depression and work hard to reverse it. The bottom line for us, my friend, is that we ARE HERE NOW. How will we use the next minute, hour, day, year? How will we find the strength to breathe more deeply, see more clearly, love more strongly, let go more easily, laugh more heartily, and exist more peacefully? We can't always win the struggle with our bodies, but we can win the struggle with our minds. We are the decisions we make. I, for one, am very grateful to know you and look forward to our future "conversations!" Happy Birthday, Egmont!!

Kathy said...

P.S. I love your photographs! They're beautiful and the textures are luscious.

Kristin Fouquet said...

I am grateful you are here.

Warmest regards,

ooglebloops said...

It is your sensitivity that allows you to be the artist that you are. Without meaning to sound trite, we don't all get a second chance-you were lucky enough to- and all around you benefit as a result. Depression is a hard hole to climb out of, I know. Creativity is a process that brings with it an inner peace- I hope you have many days of creativity and we can enjoy the results on your blog. Happy Rebirth-day!!!

Anonymous said...

My Father suffered depression as well after his open heart surgery- I also think he became a better person in many ways. Happy Rebirth Egmont- I'm glad you are here.

Anna said...

Congratulations on this very special anniversary!
Your photos are beautiful, your thoughts true and sincere and the affection and interest of your blog friends very evident.
I wish you many occasions in your life worthy of celebration.

La Dolce Vita said...

My Dear Egmont,

I feel so grateful to have met you and to know that you were given this NEW BIRTHDAY and I feel very positive that this gift means that there is something that you will do that is quite important, whether you can see it now or not.

Your photos are stunning and portray such an amazing beauty and fragility all at once and that makes them even more precious.

If I may make a wish for you it would be to have a joyous birthday. I am thankful for the gift that is you!

as always ...blessings to you..

The Artist Within Us said...

Earlier this morning I rose after less than four hours of sleep to glance at the sentences of the respondences and though I only absorbed a fraction, I wrapped myself in a blanket of your comforting words.

Now that I have had a chance to welcome the day, embrace a cloudy sky, which is leaving us a much needed soaking, I treasure every response.

Over the next day or two, I shall comment privately to each one of you. Until then, may the sun grace your path.


rivergardenstudio said...

Your words are moving and your journey magical, especially how your eyes see the world. I love how you came to understand that " the image was the message" Sometimes that is so hard to see. Take care. roxanne

Anonymous said...

Powerful posting Egmont. It perhaps gave me insight into what it must have been like for my father when he went through similar situations with his life and heart. Congratulations on the four years; may the next be stronger!

Studio Sylvia said...

Egmont, I have just 'met' you in recent weeks and your sensitivity, to life, was what attracted me to your blog. Yes, reality can give you one hard slug that knocks you off your feet, but it is how you get up and continue, that reveals the inner core, true self. I guess when one is close to losing that tenuous hold on life, one begins to 'look' with the heart, more than the eyes. As I used to say to my brother, when things were down, there is light at the end of the tunnel, but who said the tunnel was straight? We may have to go round the bend in the tunnel, to see the light.
As Cat wrote, there is a purpose for your being here, although maybe at times it isn't clear. Egmont your photos and text are thought provoking. The leaves once girdled the tree, a mantle of green to cover the limbs, providing shade. The leaves have fallen and to some they look dead. Now they cradle the earth and provide warmth for the soil, a blanket to protect the shoots. The purpose has changed but the value is of equal importance. Maybe life is the same - it changes direction and purpose. I wish you well and many celebratory days.

Ange said...

Dearest Egmont,
I am no sage. But I live on words uttered by people greater than I. One such phrase comes to mind often for me and I have it on my wall. It was calligraphed by my teacher. I shall find it's author and send it to you later but for now, the words: LIFE, is the only goal of life. I translate that as meaning Life exists to know itself. Fragile, yes. Through your experiences and your sensitivity you are a great testament to life getting to know itself. What a wonderful gift to us all.

Blue Sky Dreaming said...

Egmont these are beautiful photos.
A quote from : "It was a day filled with the glow of ordinary things & we passed them quietly from hand to hand for a long time & someone said she/he had picked a perfect day to be born/reborn & I think all of us felt the same."
Mary Ann

Kim said...

These are the most lovely photographs Egmont! Perhaps made especially so by understanding the personal trials you faced at the time of taking them. Remember the tree sheds its leaves in order to clothe itself in a newer coat, and isn't it all the more beautiful when it does! Hugs.

sondra said...

Dear Egmont,
Your sensitive writings are very special to your photographs/art is to see. Thank you for sharing and I am wishing you good health in the following years. You have been through a very difficult journey and I am so glad that you are doing well.
Positive energy to you,

Leslie Avon Miller said...

A well celebrated birthday.

sophie munns said...

So many beautiful words from many who see in you a friend Egmont....that is the first gift of much I see you have offered this life.
Ange said something interesting - the only goal of life - which she sees as Life existing to know itself.
I think you have been bringing this gravitas to others in such a tender, poetic way that it begs we reverence life some more, no question about it.
Your suffering it seems is searing - making some days so much harder than others... and yet...
the whole time something is being forged in those flames - something so lovely and precious and affecting and so singular. Something is dying and something is being born.
You have been tending to each and every visitor with so much grace... each message you write, each connection you make... it has this bittersweet whole-hearted quality of holding the moment. Its slows time down.
There are blogs about slow this and slow that ...they have nothing on the eternal time that you are reminding us to behold - some days you tell us of with heavy heart and other days maybe a lighter touch....but we listen! we are hearing you and with you.
There's much light coming from the hearts of those who have written you here - this is not so common for everyone to have this...but here in your soul's home it blesses you with its strong and robust presence.

You have made a plce here for nurtue and beauty to go out into the world and for it to come back in...what is finer that this?
S x

Kelly M. said...

"Do not wait for the last judgement. It takes place every day." Albert Camus

Egmont -- stay with us on "this small stretch of earth!"

P.S. birthdays are over-rated -- like Jack Benney, I stay at 39 forever! xoxo

P.P.S.S. your images are beautiful

Gaby Bee said...

I am happy I came across your Blog and so pleased to have gotten to know you.
The life isn't always fair to us, but you got a second chance. Congrats on your very special anniversary. Happy Rebirth-day Egmont! I'm wishing you health, inner peace and many days of creativity in the future.

Love the following quote, maybe you like it as well...

You are like a candle. Imagine you are sending light out all around you. All your words, thoughts and actions are going in many directions. If you say something kind, your kind words go in many directions, and you yourself go with them. We are ...transforming and continuing in a different form at every moment.

Gaby xo

layers said...

seems like an important 'birthday' to celebrate.. and your images are beautiful as usual

LemonyRenee' said...

I am honored that you have joined my blog. Really.

I have read your work before and did not join because I felt not "on your level," if that makes any sense. I aspire to quality writing, but am still finding my way after a lengthy creative absence.

Now I return to your blog to find such beautiful writing and photographs. I am humbled. And I am so glad you are here . . .

Carol said...

Good morning Egmont, I feel as if I have been given a gift this morning, and that is - finding your blog. Your work is beautiful, your words inspirational. Two years ago I underwent surgery for cancer and at the time I sailed through it with good cheer and enthusiasm for life. Since then I have moved house and lost my beloved mother and I think it is only now that I am catching up with all that grief and fear and uncertainty that has been buried deeply within. I have a wonderful life and I feel so fortunate to have loving family and friends, and to be able to work in my own time - but there is still that underlying niggle of doubt about my future. I think reading your words will help me. I'll be following. Thank you for an inspirational morning. Carol

~*~Patty Szymkowicz said...

Dear Egmont ~ I do not usually read all of the comments before mine ... in this case I have read some ... feeling at a loss to express what's in my heart ... so many people (including yourself) with the gift of words and expressing what lies deep within.
Ten years ago my life tumbled, broken and paralyzed I wondered how I would go on ... one small step at a time ... beginning each day with gratitude and ending each day with gratitude has brought me this far ... Art Heals!
Thank you for sharing your new heart and your gifts ... you make the blogging community a warmer, richer and more meaningful place!
... guess I found a few words after all ... please accept this blessing from my heart to yours:

May the long time sun shine upon you
All Love surround you
and the pure Light within you
Guide your way on

Dan Kent said...

Thank you for allowing us to celebrate your fourth birthday with you. For me, it is a celebration - because you have enhanced my life. Your comments are caring, thoughtful, intelligent and giving. I am sorry for what you have endured and are enduring each day. But I can tell from your writing and your art that you are firmly on this side of the life/death fence.

I have lost a child, have an autistic son, and am now watching the deterioration of the patriarchs in the family. So I have also had occasion to ask what it's all about. But I wonder if it isn't the wrong question, because the question is a dead end, as we can never know the answer. I like the saying "Life's a journey to be lived, not a puzzle to be solved." That is what keeps me going.

I love these photos, by the way. Most have a large leaf - my impression was that it is almost like a large hand - resting on the small. Beautiful images, great composition.

Eva said...

Your wonderful photos seem to demonstrate the emotions you are feeling.Having two brothers who had open heart surgery and some heart problems of my own I understand all of this so well. Congratulations on your anniversary.
Loving wishes for many more,

Trudi Sissons said...

I recognize your forest floor, I too have walked it before.

Judy said...

I am speechless to some degree. Your words and your honesty convey such a raw appeal, I love it. Its a refreshing change to read them.
So many blogs I read lack depth but I have to say yours is exceptional. Thanks for allowing us to understand your thoughts and feeling via your words and your magnificent photos.

hwfarber said...

Beautiful words, beautiful photographs. Happy Birthday.

Jill Zaheer said...

Dear Egmont,
I had no idea about your medical history and what you had gone through. This was such a poignant post, touching my heart- and certainly does shine light on the fragility of all of our lives- but for your post- most importantly, for your life. As you touch so many lives on a daily basis, we all are blessed that you are with us. As I've said before, your writing is beautiful.